Currently out of stock



TONY WREN double bass
All instruments were used without amplification or other electronics
1, 8 & 12 are double bass solos

1 - ONE - 2:28
2 - SLOW GETAWAY - 4:45
5 - FERMAGE - 6:34
6 - TURNSTYLE - 9:43
7 - EYE OF THE NEEDLE - 5:35
8 - TWO - 1:41
11 - A BOX OF LUCIFERS - 7:41
12 - THREE - 2:12

Digital recordings in London:
1, 8, 12 at Middlesex University by Joel Conde e Silva - 1998 June 23
2 - 7 at Gateway Studio by Steve Lowe - 2000 July 14
9 - 11 in concert at St Michael and All Angels Church by Martin Davidson - 2000 July 17
Total time 77:58

All previously unissued


Excerpts from sleeve notes:

"The groups I was probably best known for as an improviser in the seventies were Chamberpot and Mama Lapato, both of which made recordings for Bead. When Martin invited me to record for Emanem with a string quartet, I was particularly pleased, as string groups have always been a less frequent but very important part of my playing. In 1976 I formed the London Bass Trio, which has continued to exist in various forms ever since. Then there was Voicings, comprising three singers (including Maggie Nicols and Marj McDaid) and three strings (two cellos). I also worked with the American viola player LaDonna Smith, both in London and in the US. My first all-string quartet appeared opposite the Rova Saxophone Quartet at the ICA in the early eighties, I think, and included Phil Wachsmann (my regular colleague from Chamberpot), with the cellos of Georgie Born (also in Voicings) and Marcio Mattos (one of the London Bass Trio regulars but also a fine cellist). The name Quatuor Accorde seemed appropriate for the nearest thing to a classical string quartet that a bass player can be in - violin, viola, cello, bass - and its first incarnation (in 1998) included Sue Ferrar and Ivor Kallin, with Marcio again on cello.

Martin's suggestion for a string quartet CD was made at the end of a gig at St Michael and All Angels in May 2000 where I had been playing with Mark Wastell and Chris Burn. This was just the latest in a line of performances in which I had begun to explore a rather different aesthetic of improvisation. I'd been working with Mark now and then for a while - indeed he was partly responsible for tempting me out of semi-retirement in the mid-nineties. Mark had an on-going association with Phil Durrant, a player whose work I have increasingly come to admire, so I was eager to include Phil in the group. As it happened, the Swiss viola player Charlotte Hug was present that evening. Charlotte had already been based in London for four months on a scholarship. She had played with Mark Wastell and Phil Durrant in different groups and in a string trio with both of them, but somehow, despite hearing so many intriguing reports, I had thus far not managed to catch her playing. Of course, I then made a point of listening to Charlotte's work and became very excited about the project. As with all new groups it was a gamble, but I was more than usually confident about this one, and so (it would seem) were the others. Before the studio session the four of us spent time trying things out together, and immediately there was a unanimity of spirit and aesthetic which I think we all found quite remarkable."

Tony Wren (2001)

"St Michael & All Angels has a wonderful live acoustic and ambiance, but unfortunately lets in some road and rail traffic noise. It was therefore necessary to edit out the quietest sections of the music recorded there. One of the reasons for going into Gateway Studio was to be able to capture some of the quieter aspects as part of the flow of the music. Most of the six studio pieces used here have not been edited.

I appreciate Tony’s thanks, but cannot really take any credit for the music. What I did was to help four superb musicians get in contact with each other. The incredibly high standard of their music is due to the four musicians’ talents, their compatibility and mutual respect for each other, and their ability to work together as a group whilst maintaining their own individualities. The end result is some of the finest string quartet music I have ever heard."

Martin Davidson (2001)


Excerpts from reviews:

"The music they create has more in common with contemporary string repertoire than with much jazz-inflected free improvisation. The quartet's nine tracks are interspersed with three brief but extraordinary bass solos from Wren, whom Mark Wastell apparently tempted out of 'semi-retirement in the mid-nineties'. On the strength of this solo work alone, one wonders why Wren ever chose to stop playing: his luscious overtone-rich bass playing recalls Joëlle Léandre's Scelsi recordings, and his velvety, resonant pizzicato work makes a welcome change from the sometimes forced bravura of younger bassists. The quartet tracks are simply mind-blowing: each musician deploys extended techniques that would be the envy of and classically-trained composer (if s/he could figure out a way to notate them), from supersoft silky harmonics via col legno flutterings and skitterings across the body of instrument to gritty excessive bow pressure (forget the genteel musique spectrale and check this out for overtone content!) and ultra-high sul ponticello screeches. This music maps a territory somewhere between the Webern Bagatelles and the quartets of Lachenmann and Spahlinger, but with the ferocious energy of early Boulez (and is as much a demonstration of what Fred Frith has called 'virtuoso listening' as it is of virtuoso playing). Forget the Kronos Quartet (they don't need your money any more) and invest in this without delay."


"An absorbing mix of free-improvisation, albeit perhaps not for the faint-hearted. There is nothing preconceived about these 78 minutes; indeed, preconceptions must be left behind when listening to the extraordinary sonic freedom of the music-making.

Three double-bass monologues, taut yet ruminative, frame and punctuate the two ensemble sets. The first six are studio performances, minimally edited, which freeze-frame the players' responses to each other. From among these, The End of the Beginning features slowly evolving harmonics in an aura of Morton Feldman-like calm, while the timbral extremes of Fermage bring to mind an acoustic equivalent of Brian Ferneyhough's provocative Time and Motion Study II. Eye of the Needle suggests rather the fragmentary quartet textures of Helmut Lachenmann.

A major factor determining the impact of free improvisation is the implied bond that emerges between performer and listener. Absorbing and well-recorded as are the studio tracks, the three live numbers have a sense of happening 'in real time' that cannot be gainsaid. The spontaneous and imaginative interplay of St Michael's Mount, the intricate detail and vivid percussives characterising the 15 minutes of Not in Fitful Visions, and the bass-underpinned, pulsating activity of A Box of Lucifers - there is an excitement here that communicates way beyond the confines of the recording.

Not a disc for the faint-hearted, but anyone drawn to composers such as those mentioned above will find this stimulating, unsettling but ultimately positive listening."


"New and Noteworthy
Quatuor Accorde signifies a string quartet who seemingly enjoy creating odd harmonic tones and abstract soundscapes as they pursue fervent dialogue amid a few sequences of high-pitched and nearly ear-splitting unison notes. Simply put, there's a lot of good communal-like dialogue going on as the musicians' often pursue rigid lines, atop tensely executed frameworks."


"The London scene is currently laden with fine string players. When a string quartet as outstanding as this one can be active in a scene also populated by players like Rhodri Davies, Marcio Mattos, Nigel Coombes, Phil Wachsmann.... and bass players of the quality of John Edwards and Simon Fell, the phrase 'embarrassment of riches' looms legible and large. Quatuor Accorde was convened by bassist old-timer Tony Wren, and comprises Mark Wastell (cello), Phil Durrant (violin), and Swiss viola player Charlotte Hug. ANGEL GATE is their take on modern string quartet improv, with academic compositional and avant-garde classical influences skilfully stirred in. It's divided between studio and live recordings, split and bookended by three short and sweet Wren bass solos. The approaches to playing technique, sound arrangement and juxtaposition, and group interaction are as open-minded and exploratory as one would expect: the quartet reassess their idiom from a string of different tacks, producing a series of diverse pieces. There's a distinction - subtle but evident nonetheless - to be drawn between the studio and the live pieces: though the playing in both is disciplined, the former explore with concentrated focus a smaller range of ideas; the latter sound looser and 'unfinished', more climactic. All the bases are covered, however: sustained flurries of thrust and parry (Scraping Through); scaldingly harsh tonal interchanges (Fermage); slow-building, resplendently intense bowing (Turnstyle); more traditionally 'improv' scatter-happy interplay (Eye of the Needle); and plenty else besides. The playing is throughout imbued with a strong sense of discipline, but also a pronounced spirit of jouissance, ensuring that ANGEL GATE is anything but a bleakly austere atonal scrape-fest. Exacting, but accessible."


"I am crazy for this experimental string quartet!! Their music simply cannot be described with words. First of all, there is a warning: all the instruments here were used without amplification or other electronics. And they sound really electronic in some parts!! Amazing!! It is really interesting to see how in some tracks the basis of the piece is constructed over the double bass and cello and in others over the violin and viola turning upside down the scheme of the songs. I think that in this recording the fundamental thing is the experimentation, to break musical boundaries, to explore, to create atmospheres that our ears are not so accustomed to listen. Check for example the phrases in Slow Getaway (2:50) to see how the instruments interact to give form to the musical piece, or the quasi-noises in The End of the Beginning to see how this musicians are always walking on the edge. These are twelve interesting tracks for lovers of total experimentation. Favourite tracks: Scraping Through, Turnstyle and St. Michael´s Mount."


"Quatour Accorde's music frequently develops slowly. On The End of the Beginning small harmonics burst and decay in an almost slow motion. Scraped strings are, at times, barely audible. Yet at other times things get quite intense. Fermage has Durrant [it's actually Wastell] scraping high end glisses while the other three complement with spectral harmonics and low rumblings. Sometimes the sounds can be quite stunning. St Michael's Mount is all high-end harmonics with the occasional foray of one of the players into the lower end of their instrument. It's a truly unique sound.

Quatour Accorde give the music a strong grounding and the work as a unit. This is not a music of soloists. It is a true group music. This recording gives the listener, as well as the players, some new options. It's well-worth hearing."


"Strings en masse are a difficult medium for improvised music. Operating through a comparable range of manipulations with often only register differences as the sole potential absolute in distinguishing individual instruments such configurations can lead to certain homogeneity of sound. The improvising string quartet Quatuor Accorde confronts the problem head on tooling their respective instruments to non-derivative tunings. Gathering material from three separate occasions this disc is a well-indexed encyclopaedia of extended string techniques.

Wren's resonant creakings almost sound amplified in the manner by which they expand and contract, but as the disc sleeve is quick to point out none of the players are plugged in at any time. It's this kind of supreme control over sound and pitch production that is the quartet's chief asset enabling them to access a warehouse of noises beyond their instrument's conventional capabilities. High, keening harmonics or low rumbling drones, all appear within their communal grasp. Scraping Through could easily serve as an surrogate title for this entire endeavour and between the harried bow strokes of Hug and Wastell and the scabrous pluck/scratches of Durrant and Wren whatever sonic fabric is the obstacle to their ingress is by piece's close completely shredded.

One, Two and Three are solo features for Wren and the bassist bombards each one with a full range of non-idiomatic string gesticulations and gravity-defying harmonics. Rubbing frictionary streaks pepper Fermage sounding like oscillating short wave static beamed from four separate co-ordinates. Conversely Not In Fitful Visions opens with a sporadic patter of pizzicato notes mimicking the noise of mineral-laden droplets falling to an isolated cavern floor. Bows unsheathe and arco harmonics invade the sonic dimensions in gradually spaced numbers. On the ominous A Box of Lucifers it sounds as if Wastell is splintering sections from the body of his instrument for firewood amidst the taut groans of Durrant and Hug. Later the strings' gnarled nails on chalkboard lines raise and lower the tension in jagged peaks and troughs.

Commandeering the standard instrumentation of a Classical chamber quartet these four improvisers apply the liberating creative resin of free improvisation liberally to their strings and in so doing derive a music pregnant with uncompromising originality. The successful precedence for their work is slim. The fact that they succeed so notably in pulling new sonorities from their instruments and in the process solidify a satisfying collective guise will hopefully goad others to claim the gauntlet thrown by their triumph."


"Improvising string quartets often face a dualistic choice between their uptight classical peers and their liberated jazz counterparts. The middle road (which ends up the most promising) draws inspiration from both arenas. For the Quatuor Accorde, the spectres of John Cage and Albert Ayler both loom high. The members of the quartet rarely use instruments for their "given" purpose - instead, they adopt novel roles as broad as the players' imaginations, and as open as their intents. You can get a pretty good sense of a tune like Scraping Through from the title alone. But on this track the group also takes its liberties with the 'scraping' concept, which is never to be taken totally literally. Over the course of this piece (and throughout the record in general), players form impromptu unions of twos and threes, briefly exchanging ideas before heading elsewhere to catch up with the rest of the group. Explicit harmony mostly appears in brief, fleeting flashes. Melodies generally consist of spare fragments tossed up by one member of the group and caught by another. The rest of the music remains implied, rather than stated, and it's up to the listener to put the pieces together.

Wren's three improvised bass solos - the numbered pieces which frame the group performances - offer a brief respite from the hushed but intense four-way communication of the quartet. Wren takes musical fundamentals more literally when playing solo, and his careful but forward-looking style reflects an interest in the 'total sound', rather than pyrotechnics or impulsive exploration. Thus his more explicit statements of rhythm and harmony.

ANGEL GATE is a very quiet recording for the most part, and the dynamics of overtones and microtones often shift the music down to the lower range of audibility. I'd recommend headphones if you're serious about getting the full experience from this disc, simply because that way you'll keep the quartet's feathery sounds from getting lost in your listening space."


"Do not let the instrumentation fool you into expecting chamber music. This is a pithy, knotty improvising group containing experienced string improvisers.

The CD is punctuated by three fairly short bass solos from Wren, who is the leader of the group. The three are distinct and contrasting; Wren finds new things to say on bass that are devoid of clichés and draw little on conventional bass playing.

Of the remaining nine tracks, six were recorded at Gateway Studio and three live at St Michael & All Angels Church. The church has a high roof and great acoustics, so is a regular venue for improvised music. But it is not soundproof, and admits road & rail noise, which is why the quieter pieces here are from the studio session not the gig. In the live context, the four instruments exploit the church's acoustics well, with Wren's bass resounding around the space. As ever, Martin Davidson has captured the live sound excellently. The interaction between the players is extraordinary. With string improvisations, there is still no well-established vocabulary, so players such as these are simultaneously creating the vocabulary and also - as with all improvisers - avoiding overusing it. Much of the dialogue between the instruments takes place at very low volumes, with the smallest and rapidest of sounds eliciting an instant matching response. The extreme concentration of all the players is tangible on this recording; live, the tension created can be breathtaking. This is not music that can be in the background of one's life. It is intense and, to be fully appreciated, it requires total attention. Such an investment by the listener is amply repaid."


"Bassist Tony Wren has always played in the shadow of other British free improvisers and his work remains under-documented. This CD by his Quatuor Accorde, a string quartet, is thus a worthy document. ANGEL GATE contains excerpts from two performances, with three short double bass solos acting as introduction, interlude and conclusion. The first half of the CD was recorded at Gateway Studio in July 2000 and features short (under ten minutes) pieces dealing with soft textures. Phil Durrant (violin), Charlotte Hug (viola), Mark Wastell (cello) and Wren create organic creatures with sixteen strings. Bows scrape strings very softly - the string instrument version of a an approach developed on wind instruments in the late 1990s by artists like Axel Dörner, Franz Hautzinger and John Butcher. The four musicians share musical ideas on a deep level, giving the quartet a very distinct personality. The second performance was recorded live at the St Michael and All Angels Church three days later. Here the music is more dynamic, as if the players felt the need to fill the entire church with their sounds. This kind of music is hardly heart-warming or engaging, but the textures developed, almost drone-like, can capture the listener's attention."


"Tony Wren sent this beautiful string quartet CD to us. Recorded in studio as well as at St. Michael and All Angels church, the music provides intimate and introspective moments throughout. Those who haven't listened to this kind of music before will want to ensure that they are in a quiet space, where there will be no interruptions. Headphones may help, but I find it much more rewarding to listen without them - at fairly loud volume. Tony's double bass is complimented by Charlotte Hug on viola, Mark Wastell on cello and Phil Durrant on violin. None of the 'normal' descriptors (passionate, heated, noisy) can be applied to a review of this recording... because the intrigue is in the 'turn' of the musical moment... about 80% of my enjoyment in this type of music comes from the knowledge that the players are hearing/envisioning scenes that I've never imagined before! Wren & the rest of the group are, quite simply, MASTERS at defining the moment on the fly. If you're searching for 'answers' in your music, in other words... defined patterns - you will have to look elsewhere. A challenging & invigorating musical experience - this gets my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating!"



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